Sunday, June 30, 2019

What about Native Americans?

This article began as a piece on the Indian Citizenship Act, which was signed into law 95 years ago, in June 1924. But other matters are included in this article about Native Americans, who are also known as American Indians, Indigenous Peoples, or First Peoples--and the preferable term depends on whose opinion you take. 
The Indian Citizenship Act
President Calvin Coolidge signed into law the Indian Citizenship Act, which marked the end of a long debate and struggle, at the federal level, over full birthright citizenship for American Indians.  
President Calvin Coolidge with four Osage Indians after he signed the 1924 bill granting Indians full citizenship.
The “sinfulness” of the original aggressive treatment of Native Americans was compounded by the Indian Removal Act, signed into law by President Andrew Jackson in May 1830. As I wrote in my 10/5/18 blog article, there are those who see the mistreatment of indigenous people and slavery as two aspects of “America’s original sin,” and there is ample reason for agreeing with that assertion.
That Act, authorizing the President to grant unsettled lands west of the Mississippi River in exchange for Indian lands within existing state borders, instigated what came to be known as the Trail of Tears.
In the following decades of the 19th century, there were various attempts to assimilate the Native Americans into mainstream society—and those attempts were successful to a degree.
Traditional ways continued to be maintained by the majority of the Native Americans, however, and one wonders if the Indian Citizenship Act was not primarily just a further attempt to promote assimilation.
Black Slaves, Indian Masters
In thinking about the American Indians’ plight in the centuries following the coming of the first British colonialists, I was surprised when I recently learned that even some Indians owned African-American slaves.
A well-researched book by Barbara Krauthamer, a history professor at the University of Massachusetts Amherst, was published in 2013 under the title Black Slaves, Indian Masters. It is a fascinating book about some Indians owning slaves from the late 1700s until at least 1866.  
Among social liberals, there are those who have only glowing praise for Native American culture. It is seen as promoting harmony with the natural world and with other people.
Mitákuye Oyás’iŋ (all are related), a phrase from the Lakota language reflects that worldview of interconnectedness and harmony held by the Lakota Indians.
And although Krauthamer’s book was not about the Lakota people, her research showed quite clearly that at least some citizens of the Choctaw and Chickasaw Indian nations were guilty of the “original sin” of the British settlers in North America.
Granted, they may have learned that “sinful” practice from the whites, but still . . . .
Rescuing the Gospel from the Cowboys
Richard Twiss was a Native American whose book Rescuing the Gospel from the Cowboys: A Native American Expression of the Jesus Way (2015) was published posthumously. 
Twiss, born in 1954 on the Rosebud Reservation in South Dakota, died in 2013--just two years after completing his doctorate of missiology in intercultural studies from Asbury Theological Seminary.
In 1997 Twiss and his wife founded Wiconi (a Lakota word meaning life). Its mission was “to work for the well-being of our Native people by advancing cultural formation, indigenous education, spiritual awareness and social justice connected to the teachings and life of Jesus, through an indigenous worldview framework.”
As one who has long been an advocate of the contextualization of Christian theology (see my 1/22/10 blog article), I was very favorably impressed by Twiss’s book.
So with regard to the Native Americans, I want to hold on to the emphases of two Richards: the emphasis on the universal Christ by Richard Rohr and the emphasis on the native American expression of the Jesus Way by Richard Twiss.

Tuesday, June 25, 2019

Still Fed Up with Fundamentalism's View of the Bible

This article is based on the fifth chapter of my book Fed Up with Fundamentalism (2007), which I am currently updating (and slightly revising) for re-publication at the end of the year. Beliefs about the Bible were central to the rise of fundamentalism 100 years ago and its “resurgence” that began 40 years ago.  
The Basic Problem: Inerrancy
Fundamentalists, now generally known as conservative evangelicals, have strongly emphasized the necessity of an inerrant Bible. Perhaps more than anything else, belief in Biblical inerrancy is the defining doctrine for fundamentalists.
Writing in The Fundamentalist Phenomenon (1981), Jerry Falwell declared: “A Fundamentalist is one who believes the Bible to be verbally inspired by the Holy Spirit and therefore inerrant and absolutely infallible” (pp. 119-120).
In the ninth chapter of Inerrancy (1980), Paul D. Feinberg presents this definition:
Inerrancy means that when all facts are known, the Scriptures in their original autographs and properly interpreted will be shown to be wholly true in everything that they affirm, whether that has to do with doctrine or morality or with the social, physical, or life sciences (p. 294).
There are several problems with this definition, though. Is it possible to know all the facts? And how do we know when the Bible as a whole, or when any individual passage, is “properly interpreted”? And do we really expect the Bible to be infallible about specific matters in the social, physical, and life sciences?
Three Related Problems
1) The Problem of Interpretation
Here, especially, is the problem of conservative evangelicals’ insistence on interpreting the Bible literally.
W.A. Criswell was one of the most prominent Southern Baptist pastors in the 20th century. He has been called “the patriarch of the ‘conservative resurgence’ among Southern Baptists.” Perhaps his best-known book is Why I Preach That the Bible is Literally True (1969).
In the third chapter of that book, Criswell (1909~2002) emphasizes that the Bible “is the Word of God, not merely contains it.” Then on the basis of 2 Timothy 3:16, Criswell asserts: “On the original parchment every sentence, word, line, mark, point, pen stroke, jot, and tittle were put there by inspiration of God.”
What does it mean, though, to say that the Bible is literally true? And how can one determine what is literally true and what is not? For example, what about the snake talking to Eve in the Garden of Eden? Did that literally happen? If so, how was it that a snake could talk? And what language was used?
2) The Problem of Selective Reading
To give just one example here, these days we hear a lot, especially from conservative evangelicals, about maintaining traditional marriage. But the biggest names of the Old Testament were polygamists—Abraham, Jacob, and David. Moreover, adultery was punishable by death.
The point, of course, is that “following the Bible” in maintaining “traditional marriage,” means following only selected parts of the Bible. There is no question but that even the staunchest fundamentalists are selective in the Bible passages they interpret as literally binding on Christians today.
3) The Problem of Changing Beliefs
If the Bible is the inerrant Word of God and Christians are supposed to believe in a literal interpretation of that Word, how can there be changes in what Christians say the Bible teaches?
In issue after issue, though, there have been changes, some of them quite dramatic. In the final part of Chapter Five, I write about changes in beliefs about the physical sciences, slavery, and even the proper dress for women.
So, while maintaining a high opinion of the Bible’s significance, I am fed up with fundamentalism’s view of the Bible for the reasons given above, among others.

Thursday, June 20, 2019

Is Religion a Good Thing?

So, how would you respond to the question posed as the title of this article? Perhaps some of you would quickly answer in the affirmative and a few of you would likely answer in the negative. However, maybe many of you, like me, would want to respond, “It depends.” Or, in keeping with my 6/15 posting, perhaps we would want to say, “Yes and No.” 
The Affirmative Position
Most religious people, no doubt, are convinced that their religion is a good thing. Obviously, people would not choose to identify with a religion if they thought that, overall, it was not a good thing. But other religions have often been seen as definitely not so good.
Thus, in the past there have been plenty of people who basically thought, “My religion is good, but other religions are bad”—and that idea has been particularly strong in Christianity, and more particularly in conservative Protestantism.
In the name of religious tolerance, though, there are now many who emphasize that all religions are basically the same—and that they are all basically good, for they all teach things like the Golden Rule, for example.
Since now for many “progressive” people little is more intolerable than intolerance, exclusive views of religion have largely been rejected and replaced with the universal acceptance (for the most part) of all religions as true (at least for the adherents of those religions) and good.
But tolerance should never become a barrier to critical thinking.
The Negative Position
There is a growing number of people, especially in the Western world, who think that religion is, definitely, not good. But that has been a common idea in some places in the world, like Japan for example, for quite some time.
My first realization about religion perhaps not being good came from listening to my students in Japan, where I began teaching at Seinan Gakuin University (SGU) in 1968. Most of my students had a negative attitude toward religion partly because in high school history classes they had learned undesirable things about Christianity, such as the Crusades.
Moreover, most of them had been brought up by parents who remembered how the Shinto religion was used by Japanese militarists to spur the nation toward aggressive military action in China and then later at Pearl Harbor.
Warlike activity was done in the name of Emperor Hirohito, who was considered by most Japanese in the 1930s and early 1940s as the earthly manifestation of the Shinto gods.
The vast majority of my students in the required Christian Studies classes I taught were not just negative toward Christianity, they were negative to all religions.
After a year or so at SGU, “Is Religion a Good Thing?” was the title (in Japanese) of the first article I wrote for a faculty and staff publication.
My conclusion was, “Not necessarily.”
The Both/And Position
In one of his numerous potent statements, Pascal declared, “Men never do evil so completely and cheerfully as when they do it from religious conviction” (Pensées, Trotter trans., #894).
That certainly seems to be true when thinking of the 12th and 13th century Crusaders, the Japanese militarist leaders of the 1930s and ’40s, or the radical Islamists of the 21st century.
But isn’t the opposite also true? People never do good so completely and cheerfully as when they do it from religious conviction. Just the Christian examples here are legion: Francis of Assisi, Mother Teresa, Kagawa Toyohiko, M.L. King Jr., etc. etc.
These latter individuals, though, perhaps could be more correctly described as spiritual rather than religious. In the end, it is faith rather than religion, spirituality more than religiosity, that is good.
Thus, it is faith and spirituality rather than religion that needs to be accentuated.

Saturday, June 15, 2019

The Importance of "And"

Last month I posted articles directly related to new books by the noted authors / theologians Richard Rohr and Serene Jones. Each in their own way emphasized the importance of the word/term “and.”  
Rohr’s Emphasis on “And”
For many years now, and in many ways, the Franciscan friar Richard Rohr has emphasized the importance of “and.”
In 1986 Rohr founded the Center for Action and Contemplation. Concerning that name, he has said repeatedly that the most important word in the Center’s name is “and.”
In his new book, about which I wrote last month (here), as well in his book The Naked Now (2009), which I have just finished reading, Rohr writes about the importance of “and” by explaining the deep significance of paradox, nonduality, and “third eye” thinking.
In The Naked Now, Rohr has a lucid section in the 20th chapter titled “The Value of Paradox” (pp. 144~9). He writes,
Because paradox undermines dual thinking at its very root, the dualistic mind immediately attacks paradox as weak thinking or confusion, separate from hard logic. The modern phenomenon of fundamentalism shows an almost complete incapacity to deal with paradox (p. 144).
Rohr goes on then to assert, “The history of spirituality tells us that we must learn to accept paradoxes or we will never love anything or see it correctly” (ibid.)
“Dual thinking” sees things as either/or--so that is the reason Rohr emphasizes nonduality. 
At the very end of The Naked Now, Rohr makes 26 short statements about what he calls “The Shining Word ‘And.’” (You can also read those statements at this link.)
Jones’s Emphasis on “And”
While not as direct as Rohr, in her book Call It Grace, Serene Jones makes repeated emphasis on “and” by linking seemingly opposing concepts. Her book is divided into four “stations” (rather than parts), and the title of each is two (or three) words connected by “and.”
Jones emphasizes “Sin and Grace,” “Destiny and Freedom,” “Hatred and Forgiveness,” as well as “Redeeming Life and Death.” In addition, like both Luther and Calvin, she writes in the last chapter of her book, “We are saints and sinners, flawed and graced, the extremes always mingling in us” (p. 295, bolding added.)
Jones, a Protestant, like Rohr, a Catholic, adeptly recognizes and emphasizes the importance of “and.”
My Emphasis on “And”
As some of you know, my doctoral dissertation, completed more than 50 years ago, was titled “The Meaning of Paradox.” It was because of my early recognition of the importance of “both/and” thinking that I chose that topic--and this has been a key to my theological (and other) thought through the years.
Some of you also know that the 17th chapter of my recently published book Thirty True Things Everyone Needs to Know Now is titled “Both/And Is Generally Better and More Nearly True than Either/Or.” (That chapter was written before I read Rohr enough to cite him in the chapter.)
There is so much we could understand more correctly--and so much mistaken thinking and action we could avoid--if we just learned to appreciate the importance of “and.”
In a more “popular” book, Jen Pollock Michel has just published Surprised by Paradox: The Promise of “And” in an Either-Or World. A review of Michel’s book appears in the June 2019 issue of Christianity Today.
The reviewer concludes: “Surprised by Paradox asks us to reject an either-or approach to certain irreducible mysteries of Christian faith, assuming instead a posture of humility and wonder as we contemplate the fathomless riches of God and his grace.”

Monday, June 10, 2019

The Wonderful Concept of Kintsugi

For whatever reason, during the many years I lived in Japan, I never learned much, if anything, about kintsugi. But in the last few weeks I have seen references to kintsugi in recent English-language books/articles, and I have read part of Candice Kumai’s delightful book Kintsugi Wellness: The Japanese Art of Nourishing Mind, Body, and Spirit (2018).
So, What is Kintsugi?
Kumai, who was born in California to a Japanese mother and Polish-American father, calls kintsugi “the Japanese art of golden repair.” It is literally the repairing of broken dishes by joining the broken pieces with lacquer and dusting them with gold powder.
(Kintsugi, 金継ぎis pronounced like keen-tsu-gee [as gee in geek without the k].)
“The Japanese believe the golden cracks make the pieces even more precious and valuable,” writes Kumai--and you can see from the picture below an example of a broken tea bowl repaired by kintsugi
For those of you who might want to try your hand at repairing a broken piece of china or something, you can purchase a “Kintsugi repair kit” at for a tad over US$100 (see here).
What is Metaphorical Kintsugi?
As might be expected, many people have seen a metaphorical meaning in kintsugi. Indeed, on page four of her book, Kumai states that kintsugi can be “a metaphor for your life.” It “teaches you that your broken places make you stronger and better than ever before.”
The website of a British organization called “The School of Life” has a short article on kintsugi. They say that the kintsugi process symbolizes “a reconciliation with the flaws and accidents of time.” Their article ends,
In an age that worships youth, perfection and the new, the art of kintsugi retains a particular wisdom--as applicable to our own lives as it is to a broken tea cup. The care and love expended on the shattered pots should lend us the confidence to respect what is damaged and scarred, vulnerable and imperfect--starting with ourselves and those around us.
(I had not previously heard of The School of Life, but, interestingly, it was founded in 2008 by Alain de Botton, who is the author of Religion for Atheists: A Non-believer’s Guide to the Uses of Religion, 2012--and the book to be discussed this Wednesday at Vital Conversations, the local study group June and I are members of.)
Kintsugi and the Wounded Healer
Religious people also, of course, have found the concept of kintsugi beneficial. For example, Christy Bonner, a Christian counselor, posted an article in April under the title “Kintsugi: The Way of the Wounded Healer.”
Many of you are probably familiar with Henri Nouwen’s idea of the “wounded healer,” explained in his 1972 book published under that title. As far as I know, Nouwen (1932~96) made no reference to kintsugi, but no doubt there have been many, like Bonner, who see the close connection between his writing about the wounded healer and metaphorical kintsugi.
Toward the end of her article, Bonner writes, “I am a wounded healer, I am a cracked bowl put back together with a gold lacquer. I am strong at my broken places. My scars are beautiful. And yours are too."
And then there is Jim Contopulos’s article “Kintsugi—Beautiful Brokenness” (July 2013). He writes, “Kintsugi is a beautiful and accurate metaphor for our lives, and for the life, in the worlds of Henri Nouwen, of the ‘wounded Healer’ as well as for those who would follow Him.”
Contopulos calls on his readers to strive to see the kintsugi beauty in the brokenness of others—and in ourselves. He closes his article, and I close, with these words: “Kintsugi, Lord. Kintsugi.”

Wednesday, June 5, 2019

Did Franklin Graham Avert a Civil War?

Did your church, or a church in your neighborhood, observe a “special day of prayer” for President Trump this past Sunday? Mine didn’t, but some churches did--and Franklin Graham, who proposed the idea, thought that such a day was possibly necessary to avert a new civil war in the U.S.
Graham’s Proposal
On May 30, Graham posted the following on the website: “Along with 300+ Christian leaders, I am asking followers of Christ across our nation to set aside Sunday, June 2, as a special day of prayer for the President, Donald J. Trump” (bolding in original).  
Prior to that, on May 26 Graham posted this on his Facebook timeline:
President Trump’s enemies continue to try everything to destroy him, his family, and the presidency. In the history of our country, no president has been attacked as he has. I believe the only hope for him, and this nation, is God.
Many prominent conservative evangelicals soon signed on and indicated their full support for Graham’s proposal. Some of the most recognizable names of those supporters are James Dobson, Jerry Falwell Jr., Mike Huckabee, Robert Jeffress, Richard Land, Tony Perkins, and Ralph Reed--all noted leaders of the Christian Right in this country.
Graham’s Fear
According to a May 31 article in the Christian Post (see here), “Trump’s enemies will hurt America, could spark civil war if impeached.” Thus, prayer is necessary to protect the President from his enemies who seek his impeachment. Graham explains,
If the president was brought down for whatever reason, it could lead to a civil war. There are millions of people out there that voted for President Trump that are behind him that are angry and they are mad. We are just living in a very dangerous territory and we need God’s help [sic for entire paragraph, bolding added].
Graham went on to say that the President needs to be encouraged.
It is discouraging when you wake up every day and it doesn't matter if you do something good or not. They only report the bad. That gets discouraging. I pray that the president will be encouraged knowing that there are millions of people praying for him.”
So, is Graham saying maybe that if DJT gets enough encouragement he will say and do things that would squelch the talk about impeachment? Is that how prayer might keep the country from descending into a civil war?
Is Civil War Possible?
Franklin Graham is not the first public figure in recent years to post the threat of civil war. As I wrote about briefly in the second part of my May 25 blog posting, back in 2005 Charles Colson wrote about “The New Civil War” (in the Feb. issue of Christianity Today).
Colson was worried about the “deepening of hostilities between ‘red’ and ‘blue’ states” as witnessed in the 2004 presidential election. And, arguably, things got even worse after the election of Obama in 2008 and then after the election of Trump in 2016.
But a (literal) civil war? I can’t imagine how that would be even faintly possible at the present time. How would the two sides mobilize? Where would they fight, and how?
It seems to me that Graham was just using inflated rhetoric to drum up support for the President.
If anything, mobilizing churches to pray that the president be protected from his enemies--such as the Democratic members of Congress who want to impeach him--is exacerbating the polarization in the country rather than lessening the tensions.
Nevertheless, praying for the President is a good thing--and I thought David Platt did a good job of that on Sunday morning. (Check that out here.)